Simon Crowe, founder of Grill’d Burgers, is a game-changer in the fast-food industry in Australia. The charity partnerships set up by Simon donate $500 per restaurant, per month to local community groups. With 150 restaurants Australia wide, that’s $750,000 annually if you’re counting.
Simon appeared at the recent Movers and Breakers conference, brought to you by Toyota, and moved the audience to tears. Aside from enthralling the audience with his inspiring business journey, he shared how he serendipitously created a company with a big heart. Here’s how he did it.
When we started, there was fast food, and then there was ‘Blue Ocean’ as they say. The opportunity was to position Grill’d so that it was unique and differentiated from the ‘evil empire.’
Fast forward to now, and you can see what’s happened to the food landscape. You’ve got fast food, convenience and casual, fresh casual, premium casual, and fine dining. The intent of Grill’d is to keep moving. Sometimes we need to be revolutionary and put a flag in the sand, and sometimes we need to be evolutionary. We know that the environment changes us. We’re not a product of the environment, it shapes us, and the environment Grill’d is in has changed, and then so will we.
Millennials and most of our society now are starting to express themselves on an individual basis of what they consume on the inside. It’s just changed. It’s changed remarkably. We have had to change to make sure that we are an inclusive brand that meets individual health tribe needs. We’ve put a Paleo burger onto our menu. Paleo represents only 4% of the burger sales, but it’s the number one burger that gets searched on our website at the moment. That’s because passion drives consumer behaviour, and when you tap into what a passion group wants, there’s a huge opportunity to be successful.
A charitable opportunity
In 2006, I received three emails in one day from friends saying ‘can you donate money to me for Movember, it’s a cause raising funds for men’s health.’ Back then they didn’t clarify that it was for depression. And I went for a run that day, and I thought ‘gosh, I don’t have any money I can give to these guys, but they’re three good mates, what can I do?’ And I said, ‘alright, I’ll give anyone who’s doing Movember a free burger’ and it was as simple as that. From that quick decision we ended up partnering with Movember from 2006 to 2011. We hope that we made a massive difference to their awareness, and I think we did. From that came incredible corporate sponsorship for Movember, and they quickly outgrew us. But we were there making a massive difference and being part of that tribe that was in the urban part of Melbourne and all cities in Australia.
Authenticity is key
In 2011, after we finished up with Movember, we started Local Matters. For those of you that know Local Matters, I hope you received a bottle top, and I hope you understood what that was about. We give away $500 per restaurant, per month to local community groups, so we are a business, I hope, that breaks the barrier in Australia. Chain is a dirty word. Chain and food are double dirty words. Chain and food and scale are triple dirty words. Our job is to make sure that we challenge the status quo. We want to unchain the chain. We want to make sure we’re a part of the community legitimately. Local Matters for me is the thing that I’m most proud of, it’s intrinsic to our brand, and it’s a part of our DNA.
Champion your staff
Two of my first employees who have been with me since day one, are still with me now. There’s a lot of longevity and a lot of DNA in our business that’s still there, 13 years later.
These original staff members are still people I catch up with; the interesting thing is when you see these guys come through and you see the young adults become successful and then become stronger and more capable and more confident in themselves. You then know that you’re making a difference. And if you are making a difference to society via the people who work in your business, then you’re actually moving beyond the realms of commerciality. Into a space that’s doing good by society, because you’re breeding talent and lifting up what I hope, is our society and our local communities and more generally, our country in terms of people learning and developing.
We always think it’s somebody else’s responsibility to shape the youth or to shape people who are coming through our business; we expect them to come to us with skills and capabilities, true! But the bit you can’t sometimes teach or that you can teach but we don’t give ourselves responsibility for is that of attitude. Making sure people belong to something they believe in, and I’m probably most proud of that. We talk about the culture around Grill’d – passion, leadership, ownership and trust, those are our values. We understand what the brand stands for and people actually buy into that. I’ve got four people now with Grill’d tattooed onto their bodies.
If you can have the continuum between the past, present, and future in business, knowing the mistakes you’ve made along with the brand’s intrinsic core values and culture – if you can get that mix right, and be consistent, your brand becomes far more powerful.